Films of 2017 (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Logan, Thor: Raganrok, Wonder Woman, Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049)

These aren’t all the movies I saw in 2017 – and admittedly, I didn’t see much – these are just the ones that stuck with me, in no particular order. (And looking at this list, it’s interesting how many of these are definite, rule-breaking, outside-the-box blockbusters. Nice to know that kind of thing is still possible…

STAR WARS – THE LAST JEDI

Star Wars is weird.

It’s easy to forget that the original Star Wars movies – especially A New Hope – are odd, personal, deeply idiosyncratic movies. It’s also easy to forget that the initial critical reaction to The Empire Strikes Back was a little mixed and muted. It’s also my personal theory that even if Lucas had managed to get the dialogue and characterisation a lot sharper and stronger on the Prequels, people would still have mostly disliked or hated them because they “weren’t enough like ‘proper’ Star Wars”.  The franchise has become such an impossibly huge cultural lodestone that it’s easy to go to a Star Wars movie in the wake of The Force Awakens and just expect roughly the same as what we got last time.

The Last Jedi doesn’t do that. It swings for the fences in a whole series of bold strikes, not all of which hit, but which are all fascinating for what they’re trying to do, which is blow the mythic structure of Star Wars wide open. Where The Force Awakens was a joyful sugar rush of nostalgia, The Last Jedi digs deeper into the story and the characters for a movie that’s singularly bonkers in a number of unexpected ways.

It’s a bit too long. There are a few moments where the storytelling gets a bit vague and hand-wavey (although these are NOTHING in comparison to some of the world-building plot chasms in The Force Awakens), and it’s a very particular kind of movie that ain’t necessarily going to land in the same joyful sugar-rush Force Awakens style for everyone. But it’s amazing to see a Star Wars movie this willing to take risks and do weird, unpredictable things, and tell a story that’s chewy and thematic and personal. Some will love it. Others will be nonplussed by it. But I’d rather have that than a franchise that’s stuck being a late 1970s George Lucas cover band until the end of time.

WONDER WOMAN

Possibly the best superhero origin movie since Superman: The Movie, which is ironic since Wonder Woman also shares a number of the same weaknesses – it’s at least twenty minutes too long, it’s tonally all over the place at times, and it comes close to falling apart in its big dramatic climax. But despite this (and some choppy action editing and overdone speed-ramping), this is also a beautifully earnest superhero epic that gets the thematic weight of World War One right, and brings the character of Diana to life in a way that emphasises her humanity and compassion. It’s a superhero tale, a war epic, a fish-out-of-water comedy, and a charming-as-hell love story as well. And the fact that it did all of this while being part of the otherwise shambolic DC Movie Universe only makes it more remarkable.

LOGAN

The moment I saw the Johnny Cash-scored teaser trailer above, I thought “Oh heavens, this movie has a good chance of completely destroying me”. And I was pretty much right. An R-rated, hyper-violent Wolverine movie sounded like a bad, potentially gratuitous idea in theory, especially one that was inspired by a Mark Millar comic, of all things – what I wasn’t expecting was an amazingly well-crafted bleak near-future superhero western that takes an unflinching look at ageing, mortality and the true cost of violence. Both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart have rarely been better than here, and it’s one of the few superhero movies that genuinely transcends its genre. Just make sure you’ve got something happy to watch afterwards, for heaven’s sake…

DUNKIRK

There’s an opinion that gets hurled around a lot online that Christopher Nolan is a Stanley Kubrick-style emotionless Vulcan who makes movies that are absent any human feeling, and it’s heinous bollocks of the highest order. Yes, there’s a chilly, steely precision to a lot of Nolan’s films and he isn’t the best at BIG emotion (as proved by some of the weaker moments of the flawed but wonderfully ambitious Interstellar), but I don’t think an unfeeling Vulcan-style filmmaker would have been able to make this portrait of the Dunkirk evacuation quite such a traumatic and terrifying experience. Simultaneously a stripped down, experimental arthouse movie, a historical epic and a suspense flick, Dunkirk isn’t the place to come for historical context – this is an experiential, almost backstory-free movie that’s all about making you feel what it would be like to be in that situation, and Nolan makes every second count. He’s also one of the only filmmakers around who can still get away with doing deeply experimental movies on a blockbuster scale and actually get people to watch them.

THOR: RAGNAROK

The moment I heard that one of Taika Waititi’s touchstones for Thor: Ragnarok was the 1980 version of Flash Gordon, my interest was sparked – and the moment I saw the first trailer, I felt confident I was going to love a lot about this film. The end result is a gloriously kooky superhero movie that balances out some so-so storytelling and weird pacing with day-glo visuals and some incredible comedy. It’s a healthy up-side of Marvel’s continuing success that they’re able to push the envelope as far as they do here , and it was around the extended homage to the insane ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ tunnel sequence that I realised exactly how insane this film was prepared to go. The Jack Kirby-inspired production design is a delight, Chris Hemsworth is clearly having so much more fun getting the chance to flex his comedy chops, and it’s great to get a Thor movie that taps into the splendour and weirdness of classic runs like Walter Simonson’s Surtur Saga, while also adding its own deeply bizarre humour.

BLADE RUNNER 2049

I have extreme difficulty believing this film exists. A Blade Runner sequel was mooted for so long, and so obviously a bad idea (especially after the messy results of Ridley Scott returning to the Alien universe for Prometheus). It felt like a project doomed to failure – and then Denis Villeneuve came along, and ended up delivering a moving, absorbing and stunningly gorgeous 2 & 3/4 hour sci-fi tone poem that took the mood and themes of the original movie and pushed them even further. Visually and conceptually there is some utterly brilliant stuff here, and some major surprises as well – most notably, Harrison Ford giving a great, nuanced turn as an older, sadder Rick Deckard. I’m not in any way surprised that it didn’t do well financially – moody, dark SF that’s heavily influenced by the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky was never going to be a major box office draw, especially when it’s a 35-years-later follow up to a noted financial bomb turned cult favourite. Yes, it’s too long, and it doesn’t manage to capture the original’s suspense or intensity, but I’m just glad that a lot of people took a risk on something quite so bizarre, and that I’ll soon have the chance to buy the Blu-Ray and immerse myself in those intoxicating Roger Deakins-shot visuals once again.

Schizopolitan – The Podcast: Episode 20 – The Trailer Awakens (Star Wars: Episode VII and the Mystery of Hype)

star wars force awakens official poster 2015 jj abrams

THERE HAS BEEN AN AWAKENING! Unbroken and undefeated by various technical snafus, Saxon and Jehan are back to discuss the heck out of the biggest movie trailer in a long time. The final trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has arrived – and what’s the reaction? How much is this film going to emotionally destroy Saxon? Are we possibly seeing too little of what the film is actually going to be? And can JJ Abrams deliver a Star Wars movie to truly be reckoned with? EXPLOSIONS! CONTROVERSY! MYSTERIOUS BLUE DEATH-STAR TYPE THINGS! IT’S ALL HERE!!!

Enjoy the podcast (please let us know in the comments if you do), and stay tuned for more episodes soon! And remember – you can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes! Share and Enjoy!

(The opening and closing music on the podcast is ‘Ouroboros’ by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0. creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)

Schizopolitan – The Podcast: Episode 17 – The Super-Sized Anniversary Spectacular! (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Sense8, Jurassic World, Terminator: Genisys)

Jurassic World 2015 Poster Chris Pratt

DAY VERSUS NIGHT! MAN VERSUS GOD! DINOSAURS VERSUS TERMINATORS! The Schizopolitan podcast returns in a blaze of glory, celebrating its one-year anniversary with a bumper edition crammed to the rafters with genial chat about film and television! San Diego Comic-Con has once again blasted pop culture with a salvo of news, trailers and general insanity, and Saxon and Jehan take a brisk look back at the biggest highlights of recent news – they debate the official announcement of who’s directing the Han Solo origin movie, while the behind-the-scenes video from Star Wars: The Force Awakens gets them wondering if they could get any more excited about the upcoming film’s emphasis on practical locations and effects:

Then – it’s time for the battle to begin! The first extended trailer for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was also shown at Comic-Con, and thus Saxon and Jehan are pitched into a conflict of ideals and opinions that will SHATTER THE WORLD! Is it a good trailer? Does Zack Snyder even get Superman? Is Ben Affleck looking like an interesting take on the Caped Crusader? And how in heaven’s name are they going to get Wonder Woman to fit into all this?

Also! Saxon takes a look at the recent Netflix series Sense8, co-written and overseen by the Wachowskis, and asks if this is the project that’s going to redeem them after Jupiter Ascending. THRILLS! WEIRDNESS! INDULGENT PLOTTING! PSYCHIC ORGIES! And then, if that wasn’t enough, Jehan tackles two recent attempts at franchise reboots! Is Jurassic World a fitting sequel, or does its flaws hamper the story it’s trying to tell? Does Bryce Dallas Howard’s Jurassic World character really wear heels for the entire movie? And exactly how bad is Terminator: Genisys? The truth can only be found in the new episode of Schizopolitan! LOOK UPON OUR WORKS, YE MIGHTY, AND DESPAIR!

The Contents:

00:00:00 – 00:06:25 – Intro
00:06:25 – 00:13:19 – The Han Solo origin movie
00:13:19 – 00:19:08 – The Star Wars: The Force Awakens 
00:19:08 – 00:48:31 – Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice 
00:48:31 – 01:19:30 – Sense8
01:19:30 – 01:39:23 – Jurassic World
01:39:23 – 01:58:05 – Terminator: Genisys
01:58:05 – 02:01:30 – Outtro

Enjoy the podcast (please let us know in the comments if you do), and stay tuned for more episodes soon! And remember – you can now subscribe to the podcast on iTunes! Share and Enjoy!

(The opening and closing music on the podcast is ‘Ouroboros’ by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0. creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)

Games: Why you should be playing Star Wars: TIE Fighter

Star Wars TIE Fighter boxart LucasArts PC  Game

In case it had escaped your attention, a thing called “Star Wars” is pretty hot right now. Confounding doomsayers who predicted that Disney’s buyout of Lucasfilm in 2012 would be the death knell of the venerable franchise, it’s fair to say that excitement about the space opera saga is higher now than it’s been since the days before The Phantom Menace poisoned the well. In all this excitement about the shiny new Star Wars, though, it’s easy to forget about the good old Star Wars – not helped by the fact that Disney and the reorganised Lucasfilm Story Group are in many ways weirdly keen for you to forget about the good old Star Wars.

Indeed, a key part of new Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy’s reinvigoration of the series has been the jettisoning of the old “Expanded Universe”, the ancillary collection of novels, comics, games and assorted other fiction telling thousands of years of stories surrounding the main six movies.Though erasing the so-called ‘canonicity’ of the Expanded Universe was probably sensible from the perspective of telling new stories unencumbered, it has resulted in genuine gems being swept under the rug. I’m not enough of an aficionado to passionately advocate for many of these works, but I’ll make an exception for the videogame Star Wars: TIE Fighter. That’s one you’re going to have to pry from my cold, dead hands, Kathleen.

Continue reading

Schizopolitan: The Podcast – Episode 3 – Doctor Who, Gotham and Star Wars: Rebels

Schizopolitan lives! After a hiatus longer than we wanted, Jehan and I have finally succeeded in recording another episode of joyful rambling about film, television, comics and everything else that takes our fancy. This week, I do a brisk half-time report on Season 8 of Doctor Who, looking at how Peter Capaldi is shaping up as the new Doctor, and then we’re on to tackling two new US TV shows. First up is Gotham, the new series that’s using a traditional cop-show format to do a massive prequel story for the Batman mythos, giving us a sprawling origin not only of Batman and stand-up cop Jim Gordon, but also virtually every villain you can think of. We look at the first two episodes of Gotham – its highs, its lows, and its tonal weirdness – while the other show we look at is Star Wars: Rebels, the entertaining new CGI animation that’s also the first onscreen Star Wars material released since George Lucas sold the franchise to Disney, and an interesting sign of what’s to come…

Enjoy the podcast (please let us know in the comments if you do), and stay tuned for more episodes and less lengthy hiatuses! And please remember – you can now subscribe to the podcast on iTunes! Follow this link to subscribe – the first two episodes are already available, and episode 3 should be up there within the next couple of days…

(The opening and closing music on the podcast is ‘Ouroboros’ by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0. creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)

Podcast: Schizopolitan – Episode 1 – The Saga Begins…

It’s been a long time, but Schizopolitan has risen from the grave… and this time we’re trying something a little different – presenting the SCHIZOPOLITAN PODCAST! I’ve teamed up with my friend and occasional collaborator Jehan Ranasinghe (on Twitter as @Maustallica) for what we’re hoping is going to be a regular series of podcasts looking at the world of Movies, TV, Animation, Games, Comics, and whatever else grabs our attention. It’s our first attempt at anything like this, so bear with us as we figure out various problems, wrestle with technical difficulties and generally ramble like there’s no tomorrow.

In this debut episode (running for 95 minutes), we use the recent aftermath of San Diego Comic Con to discuss some of the con’s announcements and reveals, but that soon spirals into a general discussion of blockbuster cinema in general – there’s talk about Star Wars and the new TV animated show Star Wars: Rebels, the first photo of the Wonder Woman costume and how much we know about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the potential upcoming DC Universe movies, and then a more wide-ranging talk about the ‘problem’ of a Female-fronted superhero blockbuster and why Hollywood seems so nervous about the idea…

Hope you enjoy our first episode, and stay tuned for more editions of Schizopolitan: The Podcast soon!

(The opening and closing music on the podcast is ‘Ouroboros’ by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0. creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)

Wars Trek: Eight Thoughts on JJ Abrams directing ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’

JJ Abrams Star Wars Episode VII
1: I’m surprised that it’s actually happening. My first reaction to the rumours that JJ Abrams might be directing Star Wars: Episode VII was “That’s weird.” My second was “Didn’t he say he’d turned it down?” My third, eventually, was “I bet this is one of those rumours that turns out to be false.” Just occasionally, it seems the Internet can prove me wrong.

2: It’s a choice that’s simultaneously understandable, a little odd, and almost a little too obvious. Alongside Joss Whedon, Abrams was one of the first directors touted by fans for Star Wars, simply because of his 2009 Trek reboot, which almost immediately seemed to make him unlikely to do it. He’s proved himself able to handle a big, technically complex blockbuster with heavy levels of special effects. He’s also able to handle character well, something not every candidate could manage (Hello, Zack Snyder). The fact that the 2009 Star Trek reboot shared so much storytelling DNA with Star Wars makes this all feel like one of those fandom wish-fulfilment “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if ****** got to direct it?” dreams that’s somehow spilled out into reality. But he’s signed. It’s official.

3: The countdown begins now to the point where Disney announce a release date shift from 2015 to 2016. Abrams is still in post-production on Star Trek: Into Darkness, and then he’ll have major press commitments around the release. If the 2015 release is stuck to, that gives him just over two years for all the pre-production, shooting the film, and the post-production – for a blockbuster, that’s a pretty tight turnaround, and while they can be made to a tight schedule, the end results often aren’t pretty. Many blockbusters have been ruined by sticking to a release date over everything (often meaning that shooting starts without a script in place), but with so much riding on this, I’m pretty sure Disney aren’t going to force Abrams to rush what’s likely to be an epic production schedule (especially in terms of post-production and CGI effects work). I’d also lay bets on that being part of the deal – I doubt Abrams would have signed to do something like this if he didn’t also get the power to do it *right*.

4: He’s a fan. It’s one of the resons he quoted for originally turning it down, but Abrams is a dyed-in-the-wool Star Wars fan, which means anyone worrying about Episode VII being slathered in lens-flare can probably relax. I’m sure it’ll look slick as hell, but I also suspect he’s going to stick a lot closer to the visual style of the original movies. Not being a fan of Trek before he hopped onboard the reboot meant he went about reviving the franchise in a very deliberate way (admittedly, one I didn’t always agree with), giving it a very new and fresh identity, with aspects of the classic version of Trek woven in. I suspect Abrams’s Star Wars will be a lot more faithful to what’s come before.

5: He’s capable of being an amazing director, but Abrams has yet to make a film I’ve wholeheartedly loved. Mission: Impossible III is great fun, but light as a feather and essentially plays as a feature-length episode of Alias (Abrams’s hilariously convoluted female-led TV spy-saga) with Tom Cruise as a lead, a blockbuster budget, and fewer over-the-top costumes and wigs. Star Trek is great fun, but has a plot that shatters into pieces if you so much as breathe on it, and also sacrifices a bit *too* much of Trek’s sense of intellectual SF adventure in favour of wham-bam action and STUFF! BLOWING! UP! Super 8 is frustratingly close to being an outstanding movie – when it’s being a homage to the Amblin movies that Abrams grew up with, it’s heartfelt, beautifully played and genuinely moving. However, when it veers left into Stephen King territory, it ends up drowning out the quieter (and stronger) emotional content in favour of horror-movie shocks, an alien that’s both an evil chomp-monster and a misunderstood tragic figure, and even more STUFF! BLOWING! UP! It’s especially frustrating when Abrams’s television work has almost always been stunning – especially the pilot episode of ‘Lost’, which still stands up as an awesome and adventurous piece of television. I’m hoping that maybe taking on Star Wars will make Abrams push that little bit further, and produce something that really does pay off the talent and storytelling I saw in all those jaw-dropping early episodes of Alias.

6: Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, Cowboys and Aliens, Star Trek) are not writing this film, and I can’t begin to describe how happy this makes me – especially as they seemed joined at the hip with Abrams. Other people are worried at the idea that Damon Lindelof may get involved thanks to his Abrams connection, a worry mainly rooted in him getting lots of the blame for people’s disappointment with Prometheus – but (a) most of the blame for Prometheus’s undeniable flaws have to be piled at Ridley Scott’s door, and (b) screenwriter Michael Arndt is already at work, and if whatever he’s done is presumably good enough to play into changing Abrams’s mind, I’m hopeful that we may be in good hands. (And whatever happens, any of the screenwriters will have to work very hard to best some of the insanely creaky writing in the prequels).

7: Thanks to a rumour that directorial contender Matthew Vaughan would have cast Chloe Moretz in a pivotal role, it’s very possible that there’s a significant role for a young female lead. If Abrams isn’t on the phone to his Super 8 star Elle Fanning right now, then the man’s a fool…

8: Ultimately, I can live with JJ Abrams directing Star Wars, but it doesn’t fill me with an immense surge of excitement either. We’ll get a damn efficient crowd-pleasing SF blockbuster, and I can almost guarantee there’ll be a sense of character and life back in the celluloid Star Wars universe that hasn’t been there for a while, but there’s still no guarantees that it’s going to be anything other than a pretty SF blockbuster with kick-ass setpieces. Abrams is unlikely to serve up a turkey, but he isn’t the bold and interesting or left-field choice they could have gone for, and he isn’t a director with an approach I would absolutely love to see tackle a Star Wars movie. (I know it’s a foolish dream and it’s ultra-unlikely to happen, but a Star Wars film directed by David Fincher would send my inner geek into meltdown). But I do think Abrams is a solid choice, and there’s potential for greatness there (as well as the potential for it all to go a bit wrong, as well). Whatever happens, despite previous disappointments, the prospect of new Star Wars movies still has me intrigued. For now, there’s life in the old Saga yet…

Video: Star Wars Uncut

Once again, the Internet and the fans give me a reason to care about Star Wars again. One of those crazy projects that seems completely demented until you see the final product and realise that yes, people actually did this, Star Wars Uncut is a crowd-sourced version of the entire original 1977 film that takes a Be Kind Rewind ‘swedeing’ lo-fi approach to expressing love for the classic SF adventure, and did it by inviting fans to remake the film however they liked. The only rule? Each group of amateur remakers only got to tackle 15 seconds of the original movie. The result is a barking made patchwork-quilt of live-action, animation, glove-puppets and the truly unexpected that all holds together a lot better than you might think. Two hours of sheer Star Wars nuttiness awaits…

Movie News: Oops, He Did It Again – Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-Ray, “NOOOOOO!” and the ever-changing mind of George Lucas…

Star Wars The Complete Saga Blu Ray Cover George Lucas 2011

He almost had me. I was wavering. I’ve recently bought a Blu-Ray player, and despite my better nature, I was finding myself looking at the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-Ray and thinking “Hmm… maybe.” It’s not like I didn’t know what I’d be getting – I knew there’d be no sign of the treasured original versions of the classic trilogy (still only available as non-anamorphic DVDs, mastered from the 1993 Laserdisc Editions), and that it’d essentially be giving us spangly High-Def versions of the prequels and the 2004 DVD versions of the original trilogy (complete with the less-than-welcome addition of Hayden Christensen’s mug edited into the final sequence of Return of the Jedi). After all, there couldn’t be anything left for Lucas to tamper with, could there?

Yes, there could.

The rumours have been flying around for the last couple of weeks – and while it looks like we’re not going to have full confirmation until the release in a week-and-a-half as to whether or not there are any other ‘surprises’ in store, there are a handful of big changes that we already know about. For a start, there has been some audio ‘tinkering’ – some of that is just remixing the original audio, punching up a few elements (and getting right a couple of music-mixing issues that affected the 2004 DVDs, especially the original Star Wars). There’s one major visual change – to Episode I: The Phantom Menace, where the puppet of Yoda has been replaced with a CGI version of the character:

This isn’t exactly surprising, and actually looks pretty good – it’s probably a mark of how little general Star Wars fandom actually cares about The Phantom Menace that nobody seems particularly upset about it (that, and the fact that the Phantom Menace puppet was weak, and somehow looked less convincing than the one used in Empire 19 years previously). If that was the only change, I don’t think anyone would be worked up right now.

It isn’t.

There are a handful of smaller changes to the original trilogy – like the new and utterly ridiculous sound that Ben Kenobi makes to scare off the Sandpeople before his first appearence, the door to Jabba’s Palace which is now three times the size (and very fake-looking), and the slightly unsettling fact that the Ewoks in Jedi now have CG-created blinking eyes (which really doesn’t make them look any less like dwarfs in furry costumes than they did before) – but then there’s the big one. Lucas has decided to have a play around with one of the key scenes of the whole original trilogy – the final moments of the Emperor, where Palpatine is on the verge of killing Luke, and Vader finally turns away from the Dark Side. I can remember watching that scene in the cinema in 1983, aged 9, completely riveted by what I was watching, and the surge of amazement as what seemed absolutely impossible – Vader suddenly becoming a good guy – happened. It’s one of the finest moments of the trilogy – a trio of films that, while the whole Star Wars franchise has lost an awful lot of its lustre in the past decade, still stand as fantastic works of popcorn cinema. And at no point in the last twenty-eight years did I think that scene would be improved by adding a ludicrously over-dramatic scream of “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!” from Vader.

Well, thank goodness that George Lucas is on hand to prove me wrong:

Words fail me. They really do.

I can see the thinking behind it – connecting Vader’s final moments with the Emperor to his first moment with the Emperor back at the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – except that the completely daft Frankenstein-stagger and scream of “NOOOOOOO!!!” in that film is widely regarded as one of the few moments where the otherwise fairly good Episode III (and about the only of the prequels to be artistically valid as a movie) is genuinely, diabolically awful. The thinking may be plain, but the execution of it, and the fact that Lucas is once again going back in to a film that was finished in 1983 and going “It’s okay guys – just one more change…”, and mucking around with such a critical section of the original Trilogy… it’s breathtaking. It really is. The level of clueless arrogance it takes to do this, and not in any way provide an alternate version of the movie, beggars belief. It’s not even as if I care about Star Wars that much any more, and I’m still kind of speechless.

The sad thing is that there’s no reason whatsoever for this. Multiple film versions are a fact of home entertainment life – the recent Alien Anthology Blu-Ray is a masterclass in presenting differing editions of films, while the granddaddy of them all is the 2007 Blade Runner special edition, which gave us every single version of the film available (a newly tinkered one, and the originals). Hell, if the Star Wars Blu-Rays just had the 1997 versions of the Special Editions versus the newly tinkered versions, that’d be a start – or an option to switch to the original, less-tinkered with audio. But that’s not the way Lucas rolls.

I’m a little sad. I’m a little vexxed. But, most of all, I’m glad I knew in advance so I can save myself some money. I’m sure 97% of Star Wars: The Complete Saga will look gorgeous on Blu-Ray, but I’d rather not have to mentally edit the terrible, terrible 3% out of my brain while I watch them. I’ll stick with the DVDs, thanks very much, and the sad fact that while it gave me some very good times in my formative years, Star Wars really doesn’t mean that much to me anymore.

So thanks, Lucas. Thanks a bunch.

(EDIT: There’s an interesting article over at Entertainment Weekly which makes some good points (even if it also overdoes the ‘kids are stupid, and anything aimed at them is generally rather silly and infantile’ theme) especially that while the Star Wars films are great works of popcorn cinema, they ain’t perfect. It’s okay to enjoy the hell out of them, but it’s also okay to grow up, realise their deficiencies, and that there are much better films out there. I think it says a lot that Empire is still widely counted as the best of the bunch, when it seems that the pulpy energy and vitality in Empire was a happy accident that Lucas made damn sure wouldn’t happen again (I have a major fondness for Jedi, but you can already see some of the flatness and woodenness that bedevilled the prequels creeping in in multiple sequences). It’s mainly as a film lover that this tweaking annoys me – as I said, if Lucas just made the originals (or as close to the originals as we can get) available, he could fuck about with new editions to his heart’s content and I wouldn’t mind in the slightest. The original Star Wars (none of this ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’ nonsense) is a significant work of American cinema, and the fact that the director has gone psychotically out of his way over the last twenty years to prevent anyone from seeing it in its original form… well, it’s rather sad. But I’m not really raging about this. I think my days of raging over Star Wars are well and truly over.)

Video: Star Wars Begins

You can’t throw a brick on the internet without hitting a Star Wars-related image/cartoon/video somewhere. One of the most heavily watched in recent years is, of course, the Red Letter Media series of epic video reviews of the Prequels, most notably the one dealing with The Phantom Menace (which would be a dazzling piece of film criticism, if it wasn’t for the tiresome and rather mean-spirited ‘Serial Killer reviews a movie’ gag that’s been eventually run into the ground), and much of what’s out there deals heavily with the truly gigantic level of disillusionment Star Wars fandom went through as a result of the prequels. Certainly, it’d take something astonishing to actually get me truly excited about any Star Wars-related project now (the fact that we’ve now got 3-D conversions of all the films coming up had me basically thinking “So What?”) and I know there are plenty who feel the same.

However – there are people out there who’ve kept the faith, and one of them (Youtube user jambedavdar) has made a fan documentary that, frankly, will take some beating. Star Wars Begins is a fourteen part, two-and-a-half-hour documentary that takes you through the whole movie and shows you alternate takes, storyboards, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage and concept work, as well as giving you a gigantic selection of audio interviews with a massive number of both the cast and crew. There’s a lot of minute detail here (including things like minor differences in dialogue between versions), but there’s also some big surprises, and a gigantic amount of trivia in what adds up to the greatest unofficial Star Wars DVD extra ever. A long watch but one that’s well worth it, Star Wars Begins is a fascinating exploration of the magic of old-school movie making, as well as a reminder that before the franchise, before the prequels, and before the disappointment, Star Wars was just a movie – and a rather bloody good one, too…

Continue reading